By John Kass
Going into a re-election year (if she even runs for a second term), all the news is bad news for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
And all of Lori’s songs are sad, as if they’d been written for her by Leonard Cohen at four in the morning at the end of December.
Violent crime is out of control, people feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods, the city’s once-famous “I will” optimism is crumbling if not gone, and Lightfoot has lost the respect of her city and even can’t raise money to fill her war chest in her election year.
Surprised? Why are you surprised?
She lost the city long ago. Though I do believe in miracles, I don’t see one happening for her, politically. Chicago and Lightfoot are in that long goodbye. And even as salty tears touch the bitter corners of her mouth, there are some some in Chicago political media aching for a sprightly new tune, a chance to sing a song of love for Arne “The White Shadow” Duncan.
If you’ve been watching Chicago politics long enough, you can see how this will go. Arne this and Arne that and all of it pulsing with a ginned-up sense of inevitability to scare others away, with the Rahm/Obama guys smiling. Some journos have been gargling with salt and warm water, limbering up the old vocal cords and sing to Arne, as Lori fades away.
The White Shadow is a basketball buddy of former President Barack Obama, who made of him an undistinguished status-quo U.S. Secretary of Education. Can he run the city? Nobody can run it now. But he knew enough to pass and block out for Obama and play some defense, so I guess that’s something.
Now Duncan is backed by big money, by Pritzker money and Jobs money and John Rogers money. And has he opened the books of his anti-violence initiative, Chicago CRED? No. The public relations people roll him out, with strategic op-eds in select newspapers as if Arne wrote them himself, with positive spin on local TV news, and meetings with the Chamber of Commerce, that sort of thing. It’s scripted.
Chicago isn’t scripted. The city is critical, all but past the point of no return and this is Duncan drama is nothing but an endless bowl of beans. I told you this would happen long ago, and despite White Shadow’s sharp protestations to the contrary, it’s happening.
Many other politicos, seeing Lightfoot’s weakness, are considering a mayoral campaign of their own, including State Rep. Kam Buckner, and Lightfoot’s nemesis, Chicago Teachers’ Union Vice President Stacy Davis-Gates, Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, former Chicago Schools CEO Paul Vallas and West Side State Rep. La Shawn Ford, among others.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get emails, phone calls or just people on the street saying, ‘you’d make a great mayor,’” Ford told Fox 32.
Not a day goes by La Shawn? Not one day?
But there is one politician who’d rather not be noticed. She’s at the center of the number one issue in Chicago and Cook County, the issue that is sinking Lightfoot and threatens Democrats and soft-on-crime Democratic prosecutors across the country:
Rising violent crime.
Who is this quiet politician who’d rather not be noticed?
Yes, Toni of the sensible shoes. She doesn’t sing. She wants to fly low. She’s a survivor. And most mayoral hopefuls will kneel and kiss Toni’s ring. They know it and so does she. Even Lightfoot kissed it some, by endorsing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for re-election and avoiding the subject of Preckwinkle and crime policy.
But understand this: Toni is boss of the judges, including Chief Judge Tim Evans who takes a beating for her. Tim is a former alderman that Toni vanquished years ago during the age of legends. She’s also boss of her very own catch-and-release prosecutor, the famous Jussie’s Girl, Kim Foxx. And, Toni is boss of the county Democrats.
Preckwinkle is also also de-facto boss of the jail (because she controls the budget) and of non-combative Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (because she controls his budget). Her policy whether you like it or not is this: she wants to keep shrinking the jail population. So violent offenders are arrested and released daily, let out on on low or no bail or electronic monitoring where they return to their communities to await trial. Sometimes violent criminals waiting at home get bored, and some even cap off a few rounds. And people are shot dead, and neighbors put little shrines up in the parkways where the bodies hit the ground.
Preckwinkle gets a break because media does not connect the dots, as if by design. One paper–the one I worked for– has hired social justice warriors, public advocates, to cover the criminal justice beat. And other media outlets aren’t far behind.
If you want real crime coverage, do yourselves a favor and read CWB Chicago.
Of all the songs that should be sung, nobody sings much about Toni and violent crime. She doesn’t have to run a media gauntlet, hounded by reporters about rising crime and her policy choices, including Foxx and Decarceration. Toni’s not bothered with questions about little children killed in the street gang wars, or why isn’t Foxx tougher on criminals. She gets away with it. The hapless mayor has to face it, but Toni, who is just as deeply involved, skates away.
And with so much control and influence over the criminal justice system, over the jail, and the judges and the prosecutor, you’d think media might want to hold Preckwinkle to account. But they don’t.
Ever ask yourself why?
The mayor’s office sucks up all the limelight and Chicago has been trained to think of mayors as all-powerful wizards with many all-seeing eyes in the backs of their heads. Yet since she was elected, Lightfoot has had only one policy success.
She’s shrunk the mayor’s office, diminishing it, reducing its reach, stripping it of respect in the city of clout, and in Springfield. It’s Lori’s incredibly shrinking mayor’s office.
Is anyone remotely afraid of her, except perhaps shopkeepers worried about city inspectors coming after them?
The 2023 Chicago mayoral elections are now just a year away. The Tribune says Lightfoot is having trouble raising political money and what meager amounts she does raise sifts through her fingers, like sands in the hourglass. The Sun Times reports that her top police commanders have no confidence in her police superintendent, and he’s just an extension of the mayor. Cops are fleeing the city as fast as they can, lured to work in the suburbs, lured by other states. In this, they follow the middle class and vote with their feet.
And violent crime is out of control. Not only are murder and shooting numbers up, an 8-year-old girl was killed the other day in the Little Village neighborhood going for fries at McDonald’s with her mom. Her name was Melissa Ortega.
Like all the other little children carried away in the city’s river of violence, the name of Melissa Ortega, third grader at Zapata Academy, will be forgotten as Chicago continues what it does best, suppressing the horror of it all by growing numb on demand, and so, making it easier on the political class.
Retired veteran Chicago Police Officer Peter V. Bella–who has written a guest column here–took out after the political class on his blog, Chicago Mind Drippings. He didn’t let Preckwinkle skate.
“Machine Boss Toni Preckwinkle is silent over the murders of children on our streets,” Bella writes. “She is ultimately responsible for the murders, as her policies fuel the murders. She has blood on her hands.”
And then he wrote: “Her name was Melissa Ortega. She was eight years old. She was murdered.”
Murders are up, yes, but carjackings have also skyrocketed, not only here but in all big cities.
New York, much, much larger than Chicago, is apoplectic after having reported more than 500 carjackings in 2021. Only 500? Chicago reported 1,800 carjackings in 2021, including the car of an Illinois state senator, a Democrat, who kept her progressive cred by voting for no-cash bail.
For years I’ve been asking you to think outside the scripted news and look instead for what’s not there, because what’s not there tells a story. To think outside the lines, to strain your ears for what’s not said, to listen for that sound that isn’t there, like that dog in the Sherlock Holmes story that doesn’t bark.
Silence tells a story, too.
Preckwinkle is not a dog. She’s a crafty, seasoned politician, having climbed governmental and political ranks to become president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and chair of the Cook County Democratic Organization.
As a party boss, she makes judges and tries to take them out if their politics displease her, the way she tried to take out Judge Michael Toomin after he infuriated Boss Toni by appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Kim Foxx’s lies and sneaky dealings in the Smollett fake hate crime case. And Toni controls the budgets of the Cook County Courts and that of her minion, Foxx.
Preckwinkle is a bitter rival of Lightfoot’s. The mayor trounced Preckwinkle in their mayoral runoff in 2019, but doesn’t that seem centuries ago now?
Chicago is a different place than it was in 2019, a very different place. The city liked Lightfoot’s pugnaciousness at first. But as she proved to be a failure at stopping the rise of crime, as she lost the city to the looters, then to the smash-and-grab gangs and the carjackers, as more bodies hit the ground and Lightfoot was so desperate to keep her progressive cred that she continued demonizing her cops, it all grew tiresome.
It was exhausting, the way staring at someone sneering at you 24/7 might grow tiresome if that someone is the mayor.
Chicago has always been an optimistic town. Even the Great Chicago Fire couldn’t kill the city’s great heart. But after Lightfoot, after Foxx, after Preckwinkle, that optimism is dying if not stone cold already. The people are exhausted by the constant (and real) fear of crime and their optimism is gone.
As mayor, Lightfoot wears the jacket and rightly so.
But she isn’t directing judges to release murderers into the city. Lightfoot didn’t make a non-crime of shoplifting as did Foxx, incentivizing the smash-and-grab gangs of today. Lightfoot even endorsed Foxx for re-election in 2020.
Did Lori think that if she made nice with Kim, that Toni would make nice with her, with the Chicago Teachers Union on Preckwinkle’s side and eager to take Lightfoot out?
Politics ain’t beanbag Lori. I thought you knew that.
But does it matter now?
Toni Preckwinkle doesn’t want to have media sing to her. She’d much rather stay still, all but unnoticed, silent as the Cook County judges and the mayor take all the media beatings on the crime issue.
Does Toni or Kim Foxx take a constant media beating on crime as does the mayor? No.
And for now, it’s clear that Toni likes her crickets silent, and still.